Sleep Deprivation and Autism Parenting: Is There a Solution?

Sleep. As a mother, it’s a precious commodity. Hell, even if you’re not a mother, you start to go a little crazy if you don’t sleep. It’s scientifically proven that sleep deprivation can lead to a whole host of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, strokes, and depression. So, what do you do when you have insomnia and, as is common when raising a child with autism, your child does too? For me, sleep deprivation is a constant issue. I can vouch for the negative impact sleep deprivation has on my ability to control my weight and my mood, but it also absolutely destroys my ability to think clearly.

Did you know that adults are supposed to get an average of 7–8 hours a day of sleep? My Fitbit Charge has a nifty feature that allows me not only to track when I go to sleep and wake up, but how many times I wake up and/or get restless during the night. On average, even when I try to go to bed early, I get about 6 hours of sleep. Last night alone, I woke up 10 times, was restless 10 times, and got a resultant 46 minutes of sleep lost. I went to bed pretty close to 10 p.m. last night, but between my own restlessness and my son constantly getting up, I lost most of the extra sleep I tried to gain by going to bed earlier. School-aged children, like my older son, are supposed to get at least 10 hours of sleep.We put the kids to bed around 8 or 8:30 every night, but I know that one gets far more sleep than the other, and his decision-making and stress tolerance during the day is profoundly impacted by his insomnia.

Did you know that more than half of children with autism have sleep disorders? A new study has shown that melatonin about an hour before bedtime may help children with autism sleep better at night. Some only need 1 mg, while others need 3–6 mg of it. Unfortunately for us, melatonin does not help our son sleep. His lack of sleep affects not just him, but us as well. The very caregivers who need to maintain sound mental reasoning skills are lacking the sleep necessary to do so. If you Google “autism mom kills son” you will see tons of cases where parents have literally lost their minds and have done the unthinkable, but who is to blame for them committing this horrible act?

A majority of the cause of these incidences are that the parents refused to seek appropriate help for their children and for themselves. What we must acknowledge is that parents of children with autism need just as much support as their autistic children do. And sometimes, they need someone who can help point them to the right resources for help with behavioral problems stemming from sensory overload and their child’s own lack of sleep. At the very least, as parents of children who need just little more than the typically developing child, we need to know we can pick up the phone and that someone will answer the call. Now, I do not mean to say that these senseless murders are okay. After all, while the mother may have to live with the guilt of killing her a beautiful child of God who is just as deserving of life as a child without autism, we should really think about how horrible it must have been for the child who was murdered. I know first-hand how frustrating it is not to be able to sleep, so I get a little less angry about my son’s constant awakenings than most people. It’s lonely waking up in the middle of the night and lying in bed willing yourself silently to sleep. It’s lonely, and frustrating, and just plain awful. Think about how sleep deprivation and insomnia must feel for our children, who are too young to make sense of what’s going on with their bodies. They get constantly told to go back to bed, yet they cannot sleep. Of course, they seek our comfort and want us to be awake with them. Wouldn’t you want someone with you if you were awake in the middle of the night and couldn’t sleep?

I don’t know the answers. We’ve tried everything to get our child to be able to sleep better. We’ve done the same for me. I remain, as always, a tired mother of two children. I’m a well-read person. I read tons of books about autism and ways to help my son. I see someone for medications for myself so that I can try to sleep. But in the end, my son and I are stuck in this loop of sleeplessness together. Who knows when I’ll experience what a true good night’s sleep will look like or whether my son will every consistently sleep through the night. I’m not angry about it. And I have more patience than most people when it comes to the constant awakenings. I’m just tired. And if anyone knows what will help us both sleep, I am open to suggestions because even using Lavender oil has proven slightly helpful, but mostly ineffective for us both.

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What I wouldn’t give for one night of completely restful sleep! And to spend more than a day or two of my son being able to sleep without coming out constantly and say, “I just can’t sleep.” As I sign off, all I have to offer you is a huge yawn and the hope that one day, we will sleep again.

Sunny Saturday Link-up

Welcome to this week’s Sunny Saturdays Link-up! I would love to see you participate in this week’s link-up! I’m adding in something special this week. Come on in!

Here are the prompts:

  1. The most beautiful sound you ever heard
  2. Secretly do a good deed and write about it.
  3. A post inspired by the word “patience”

Next week’s prompts:

  1. Name something you’d like to see invented.
  2. What is your dream job?
  3. Write about changing a bad habit.

Add your blog entry here!

Originally published at embracingthespectrum.com on April 30, 2016.